Trip to El Salvador inspires student to share experience with others
By Anna Gaynor
For Loyola junior Lizzie Sextro, this year’s Ignatian Heritage Month will feel a lot different than last year’s.
That’s because Sextro, a double major in theology and English, spent 10 days in July in El Salvador, where she got a first-hand look at the site of the Salvadoran martyrs’ deaths. When asked to explain why she chose to visit the Central American country, Sextro makes a long story short.
“Actually, it chose me,” she said.
She and two others were part of a three-person group to explore El Salvador with other delegates from Jesuit colleges and universities. Before she could go, however, she had some prep work to do, including discovering the story behind the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter who were brutally murdered by members of the Salvadoran military.
“I didn’t know too much about them,” Sextro said. “It wasn’t really something that was salient for me or something that was even on my mind at all.”
Now roughly three months after her time in El Salvador, Sextro plans to take full advantage of this November’s Ignatian Heritage Month.
One event she is looking forward to is the address by Jon Sobrino, S.J. During her trip to El Salvador, she met the prominent theologian, who helped found the University of Central America and was a member of the same Jesuit community as the martyrs. It was only by chance that he was not killed 25 years ago as well.
“Had he not been out of the country, he would have also been murdered,” said Chris Murphy, director of staff mission formation and faculty and staff chaplain at Loyola. “He’s one of the few community members that survived that and then continued to live and work there even after the assassinations.”
Titled A Community of Blood: Jesuits, University Professors, and Worker Martyrs, Sobrino’s speech will consider the future calling of Jesuit higher education in the wake of the martyrs’ deaths. Murphy hopes students see this as inspiration to take on social justice issues in Chicago, Central America, and the rest of the world.
Sextro is doing just that. During and after her trip, she has reflected on her experiences and what they mean for her going forward. One of those experiences was in the rose garden that now stands on the site where the martyrs were killed.
“The roses were planted by the husband of Elba, who was one of the women who was staying there in the Jesuits’ house,” Sextro said. “After she was murdered her husband planted that rose garden to signify that there’s life after such a gruesome, horrible death.”
Sextro was struck by the contradiction of being in such a beautiful place where something so tragic had happened
“I still think about it every day,” Sextro said. “I am still trying to work out what it means for me. A lot of people have been asking me, ‘Concretely what are you doing because you have been to El Salvador?’ I’m still struggling with that a little bit.”
Peter Breslin, S.J., hopes that others follow Sextro’s footsteps.
As a clinical associate professor of biology at Loyola, Breslin stresses the importance of social justice in his classes, which are often filled with pre-med students. He encourages his students to practice the idea of “experience, reflect, action,” something Sextro seems to be following in her own life. It was a theme St. Ignatius lived by as well.
“That’s actually the pattern that he established with the early Jesuits,” Breslin said. “They would go out into the world, they would experience it, and then they would come back and they would discuss.
“I think Father Sobrino’s presence on our campus will certainly stimulate and hopefully encourage everyone to reflect on what they are doing to serve a greater sense of justice in the world.”
Sextro is hoping to help raise awareness on her own as well.
In October she and her fellow travelers held a discussion that focused on the challenges and inspiration the trip provided them, and she hopes other students choose to become educated about the tragedies that took place before their time, too.
“It’s an experience for sure that I’ll never forget,” Sextro said. “There were so many things that made the deaths of the martyrs and the 75,000 others deaths in the civil war really real and really personal. It was just a horrifying and beautiful and joyful and desolate experience all wrapped up into one.”
In addition to Sobrino’s address on November 20, highlights of Ignatian Heritage Month include:
• Hunger Week, a series of events from November 3–9 to raise awareness about hunger issues locally, nationally, and globally.
• The Ignatian Heritage Month photography contest, which runs from November 1–8 and seeks images that capture “living radically” in an Ignatian way.
• The blessing and initial tolling of the Madonna della Strada bells. This November marks the 75th anniversary of the chapel’s dedication, and it will also mark the addition of four bells to its tower. The bells will be blessed November 2, and their first tolling will take place on November 16—the anniversary of the Salvadoran martyrs’ deaths.